A blog by Bill Hess

Running Dog Publications

P.O. Box 872383 Wasilla, Alaska 99687


All photos and text © Bill Hess, unless otherwise noted 
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Wasilla is the place where I have lived for the past 29 years - sort of. The house in which my wife and I raised our family sits here, but I have made my rather odd career as a different sort of photojournalist by continually wandering off to other places to photograph people and gather information, which I have then put together in various publications that have served the Alaska Native Eskimo, Indian and Aleut communities.

Although I did not have a great of free time to devote to this rather strange community, named after a Tanaina Athabascan Indian chief who knew Wasilla in the way that I so impossibly long to, I have still documented it regularly over the past quarter-century plus. In the early days, my Wasilla photographs focused mostly upon my children and the events they participated in - baseball, football, figure skating, hockey, frog catching, fire cracker detonation, Fourth of July parade - that sort of thing. 

In 2002, I purchased my first digital camera and then, whenever I was home, I began to photograph Wasilla upon a daily basis, but not in a conventional way. These were grab shots - whatever caught my eye as I took my many long walks or drove through the town, shooting through the car window at people and scenes that appeared and disappeared before I could even focus and compose in the traditional photographic way.

Thus, the Wasilla portion of this blog will be devoted both to the images that I take as I wander about and those that I have taken in the past. Despite the odd, random, nature of the images, I believe they communicate something powerful about this town that I have never seen expressed anywhere else. 

Wasilla is a sprawling community that has been slapped down hodge-podge upon what was so recently wilderness of the most exquisite beauty. In its design, it is deliberately anti-zoned, anti-planned. In the building of Wasilla, the desire to make a buck has trumped aesthetics and all other considerations. This town, built in the midst of exquisite beauty, has largely become an unsightly, unattractive, mess of urban sprawl. Largely because of this, it often seems to me that Wasilla is a community with no sense of community, a town devoid of town soul.

Yet - Wasilla is my home and if I am lucky it will be until I grow old and die. Despite its horrific failings, it is still made of the stuff of any small city: people; moms and dads, grammas and grampas, teens, children, churches, bars, professionals, laborers, soldiers, missionaries, artists, athletes, geniuses, do-gooders, hoodlums, the wealthy, the homeless, the rational and logical, the slightly insane and the wholly insane - and, yes, as is now obvious to the whole world, politicians, too.

So perhaps, if one were to search hard enough, it might just be possible to find a sense of community here, and a town soul. So, using my skills as a photojournalist and a writer, I hope to do just that. If this place has a sense of community, I will find it. If there is a town soul to Wasilla, I will document it. I won't compete with the newspapers. Hell no! But as time and income allow, it will be fun to wander into the places where the folks described above gather, and then put what I find on this blog.


by 300...

Anywhere within a 300 mile radius of Wasilla. This encompasses perhaps the most wild, dramatic, gorgeous, beautiful section of land and sea to be found in any comparable space anywhere on Earth. I can never explore it all, but I will do the best that I can, and will here share what I find and experience with you.  

and then some...

Anywhere else in the world that I happen to get to, such as Point Lay, Alaska; Missoula, Montana; Serenki, Chukotka, Russia; or Bangalore, India. Perhaps even Lagos, Nigeria. I have both a desire and scheme to get me there. It is a long shot. We shall see if I succeed.

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My day so far - as interpreted through my iPhone

Awhile back, I wrote that I was tired of writing about my shingles and that I would write about them no more until I could state they were gone. Yet, I keep writing about them. I guess that is because they are the dominant force in my life right now. They rule over everything else and so I keep writing about them and I will do so today again.

I have also written about how I have turned the clock upside down, and about how odd my sleeping habits have become. I have written about my determination to get more back in sync with the world around me. Yesterday, it seemed that maybe I had succeeded. I got up at 8:00 AM. I took Margie out for breakfast and then, after I got home, that weighty, heavy, feeling that has come over me at least once and sometimes twice or thrice every day since I came down with shingles, bore down upon me and so I laid down upon the couch with the cats and semi-passed out for three or four hours.

The same thing happened in the evening, but for not as long. Even so, by 1:00 AM, I felt so tired and weighty that I had no choice but to go to bed. I was glad, for I thought maybe I would get up at 8:00 again; maybe I was getting more in sync with the world around me.

I did not get up at 8:00. As every night has been, even if at times the day presents false signs to me that my shingles are easing and the pain and itch will soon be gone forever, it was a helacious night. While the pain was bad, the itch was worse.

The itch was absolutely maddening. Sometimes, I would scratch it - not violently, nothing that would break the skin - or maybe I would pinch the itchy spots all over so that a sweep of pain would replace the itch, because I prefer the pain to the itch.

So I was in and out of little bits of sleep until 12:45 PM today - the best sleep coming after 8:00 AM, when I had hoped to get up.

Margie had made some wheat and blueberry pancakes for breakfast, still had some batter left and so cooked five more for me. I told her four would be all I could eat, but when I finished the four, I wanted another and so I ate the fifth, too.

Even in this state of protracted misery, I found them to be delicious.

Although I had gotten up less than an hour before after spending 12 hours in bed, that weighty feeling engulfed me again. I had no choice. I had to lie down. You might not believe this. You might say that I could exercise proper will power and discipline, refuse to yield, stay up and do something productive with my day.

You would be wrong. Whether it is the shingles, the drugs that I am taking to fight it that don't seem to be doing me much good except maybe for short periods of time, but I can't be sure, maybe it would be even worse without the drugs, when that weighty feeling hits me, I have no choice but to lay down.

And the second couch is the best place. The TV was on, a football game - the Green Bay Packers vs. The New York Giants. The Packers went into the game undefeated, but the Giants wanted to change that. For some reason, I wanted the Giants to change that, too. I don't know why. But I did. So I laid down upon the couch and tried to watch the game.

But I couldn't. I could not keep my head to the side. I could not keep my eyes on the TV. I could not keep my eyes open. Once again, I dozed into that strange state of being mostly asleep but still being cognizant of the world around me. I could hear the play by play and so my sleeping brain created great dream scenarios of a football game being waged, although the action did not necessarily match what was being described at all.

Three hours later, I began to come to. The Packers remained undefeated. I felt sick inside. Not about the Packers winning, but about the wasted time. Add the nap to the time in bed and I had spent 15 hours in bed or napping. This is happening to me every day. Sometimes 16, 17 - even 18 hours.

This is exceedingly frustrating to me. I have come to a very rare period when, except for preparing a few photos that I took back in August for a client whose organization, country and way of life I like very much but a client that doesn't have the kind of resources available to pay much, all the big projects I was working on are done.

Originally, I figured I would be left with enough resources to survive without working for anyone else for three months - and, totally unleashed, I could accomplish a great deal in three months - perhaps enough to set the foundation for my future work and survival. But then something happened and I had to make some major revisions to a project I thought I had completed and so I lost one month of the three. That hurt - but I had still had two months. And in two months I could still do a lot to advance my own projects - projects that I hope to build to the point where they can pay my way.

But at the very moment I cleared the time, I got smacked down by these shingles - almost surely due to the stress and effort I had put myself through to get to that moment. I fell into this horrible, shifting, sleep schedule. The doctor said the only way I would heal would be to get plenty of rest. It is hard to rest good when you are perpetually hurting and itching. When sleep comes and takes over and prevents me from using the time to do something productive, I know I must yield and let it. I must sleep for however long my body demands.

I keep thinking that next week I will be over this and can get back to normal. I can still make good use of whatever free time I have left. But next week has came four times so far. I fear that when the shingle-free time finally does come, my window of opportunity will have closed and I will have to go find somebody willing to pay me to do some work - which can be pretty hard for a freelance photographer/author in the middle of winter-time Alaska.

I wanted to take a walk, but about Friday the weather turned horrible. A couple of those Pacific winter storms that I dread so much swept in and overpowered the blessed, steel, cold that had dominated November, pulling up a mass of warm air from the South Pacific. The temperature climbed from -21 F into the high 30's, maybe even low 40's. A wet snow started to fall but then turned to rain.

Along with the sounds of the football game, I could hear the pitter-patter of that rain as I napped on the couch.

To get to the main roads that had been cleared of snow and ice, I would first have to walk roads of ice coated by rain water. I did not want to do that. Nothing is more slippery than that. And it was a bit after 4:00 PM, anyway, so I got in the car and went on my afternoon coffee break. I brought my camera, but forgot to to put a card in it, so it was worthless to me.

I had my iPhone, of course, so, as I took my break, I used it to shoot the images that appear here.

They are, top to bottom:

Street light on Polar Bear Road or Drive or whatever Polar Bear it is;

25 mph sign on the other side of the bridge that crosses the Little Susitna River where Shrock Road becomes Sunrise;

Mahoney's Grotto Iona - A Place of Prayer;

The restored monument to two people who died at the corner of Church and Shrock in an alcohol-caused crash;

The keyboard to my old Mac Pro, challenging me to somehow get something done, before that weighty feeling once again overwhelms me and takes me down.


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Reader Comments (7)

writing is sure a terrific thing to do when you're in pain. my sincere advice to you, bill, is to take whatever pain medication they offer you. look, the doc says to rest. you don't need to drive or leave home. when i had my sciatica i was offered vicodan, another one that was synthetic heroin, and percosets. the percs worked the best. just do it!

December 4, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterRuth Deming

Oh Bill, I sure hope those nasty shingles go away soon. I hate knowing that they are making you so miserable! Hopefully the extra sleep you are grabbing will help push them away.

I'm a diehard NY Giants fan, have been for close to 35 yrs or so, and it was such a good game today. The G-Men only lost to the Packers by a field goal and played some darn good football!

Rest Bill, and I hope you are feeling better soon!

December 4, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterLisaJ

The shingles sound nightmarish, and I'm sorry you are having such a bad time. Last summer I had a horrible case of poison ivy...huge blisters, swelling, etc. But the worst part was the itching. I found that heat was the key to controlling the itch.... hot water, heating pad, or even a hair dryer on high blowing on the rash took the itch away for a long while. You have to be careful not to burn yourself....and I don't know if this remedy will even work with the itch from shingles. But as long as heat doesn't make shingles worse, it's worth a try.

December 4, 2011 | Unregistered Commentercarol

We just dont listen to our bodies well enough... for months before you caught shingles, you slept hardly at all (from your blogs) and now your body is INSISTING you sleep 12 plus hours a day... Listen to it. you will get better faster for it... Frustrating though it is.. Feel free to talk about shingles, my mother had them, and they truly are one of the most miserable non fatal things you can get...

December 5, 2011 | Unregistered Commentersallah

Rest up the family and I are thinking about you when we return we hope to find both grandma & grandpa in good health for a long over due visit with the boys.

December 6, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterJfH

Try witch hazel for the itch. It will not burn and it dries the rash/shingles so that it can heal. You can apply it as much as you want. When it is first applied the rash area turns bright red but within seconds the itch is gone, remains gone for a long time and the skin dries out. I was very skeptical at first but many years after I learned this it is still my go to treatment for any itch - bug bites, rashes, etc.

December 6, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterAKPonyGirl

Ruth, words and wisdom from one who has suffered far more pain than I and has done so gracefully. I would go crazy, though, if I didn't drive or leave home now and then.

LisaJ - finally, they seem to be easing off - they still got a ways to go, but they are weaker than they were two days ago, or even yesterday. Sorry Sunday owas not a happieer day for you.

Carol - I haven't tried the heat yet and the itch is diminishing, but it is still there so I might try it yet.

Sallah - You are 100 percent right. Yet, given the circumstances that I found myself in from spring on, I don't see that I had any other choice. Even knowing what I know now, given the same circumstance, I would do it again. It was the only way to get done all that needed to be done.

Jake - it has not been that long, but it feels like forever. We need those boys in our lives - you and Lavina, too.

AkPonyGirl. I asked Margie if we have any witch hazel. She said, "no." The next time either of us get to the store, I will have us get some. Yes, it is diminishing, but there is still more itch left than I like to contend with.

December 7, 2011 | Registered CommenterWasilla, Alaska, by 300

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